“All who live upon this earth are to be tested by the winds of adversity,” said Harold B. Lee.1 No stranger to adversity, Harold B. Lee lost his wife, Fern Tanner Lee, and his daughter Maurine Lee Wilkins to death during the 1960s. He also suffered severe health problems throughout his years as a General Authority. He acknowledged in general conference in 1967: “I have had to submit to some tests, some severe tests, before the Lord, I suppose to prove me to see if I would be willing to submit to all things whatsoever the Lord sees fit to inflict upon me, even as a little child does submit to its father.” [See Mosiah 3:19.]2
But President Lee offered comfort in the face of affliction: “The one who confidently looks forward to an eternal reward for his efforts in mortality is constantly sustained through his deepest trials. When he is disappointed in love, he does not commit suicide. When loved ones die, he doesn’t despair; when he loses a coveted contest, he doesn’t falter; when war and destruction dissipate his future, he doesn’t sink into a depression. He lives above his world and never loses sight of the goal of his salvation.”3
“The path to [exaltation] is rugged and steep. Many stumble and fall, and through discouragement never pick themselves up to start again. The forces of evil cloud the path with many foggy deterrents, often trying to detour us in misleading trails. But through all this journey,” assured President Lee, “there is the calming assurance that if we choose the right, success will be ours, and the achievement of it will have molded and formed and created us into the kind of person qualified to be accepted into the presence of God. What greater success could there be than to have all that God has?”4
Teachings of Harold B. Lee
How does adversity help us become more like God?
There is a refining process that comes through suffering, I think, that we can’t experience any other way than by suffering. … We draw closer to Him who gave His life that man might be. We feel a kinship that we have never felt before. … He suffered more than we can ever imagine. But to the extent that we have suffered, somehow it seems to have the effect of drawing us closer to the divine, helps to purify our souls, and helps to purge out the things that are not pleasing in the sight of the Lord.5
Isaiah said: “But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.” (Isaiah 64:8.)
I’ve read that verse many times but had not received the full significance until I was down in Mexico a few years ago at Telacapaca, where the people mold clay into various kinds of pottery. There I saw them take clay that had been mixed by crude, primitive methods, the molder wading in the mud to mix it properly. Then it was put upon a potter’s wheel and the potter began to fashion the intricate bits of pottery, which he was to place on the market. And as we watched, we saw occasionally, because of some defect in the mixing, the necessity for pulling the whole lump of clay apart and throwing it back in to be mixed over again, and sometimes the process had to be repeated several times before the mud was properly mixed.
With that in mind, I began to see the meaning of this scripture. Yes, we too have to be tried and tested by poverty, by sickness, by the death of loved ones, by temptation, sometimes by the betrayal of supposed friends, by affluence and riches, by ease and luxury, by false educational ideas, and by the flattery of the world. A father, explaining this matter to his son, said:
“And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.” [2 Nephi 2:15.]
It was the Prophet Joseph Smith who said, speaking of this refining process, that he was like a huge, rough stone rolling down the mountainside, and the only polishing he got was when some rough corner came in contact with something else, knocking off a corner here and a corner there. But, he said, “Thus I will become a … polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty.” [History of the Church, 5:401.]
So, we must be refined; we must be tested in order to prove the strength and power that are in us.6
Guided by faith taught by the word of God, we view life as a great process of soul-training. Under the ever-watchful eye of a loving Father, we learn by “the things which we suffer,” we gain strength by overcoming obstacles, and we conquer fear by triumphant victory in places where danger lurks [see Hebrews 5:8]. By faith, as the word of God teaches, we understand that whatever contributes in life to the lofty standard of Jesus—“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48)—is for our good and for our eternal benefit even though into that molding may go the severe chastening of an all-wise God, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” (Hebrews 12:6.)
Thus schooled and drilled for the contest with the powers of darkness and with spiritual wickedness, we may be “troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9.)7
One who has a testimony of the purpose of life sees the obstacles and trials of life as opportunities for gaining the experience necessary for the work of eternity. …
If face to face with death, such a one will not fear if his feet have been “shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace,” [Ephesians 6:15] and those who lose their loved ones will have the faith of Moroni, the captain of the army, who declared, “For the Lord suffereth the righteous to be slain that his justice and judgment may come upon the wicked; therefore ye need not suppose that the righteous are lost because they are slain; but behold, they do enter into the rest of the Lord their God.” (Alma 60:13)8
Listen to the Master’s lesson in human horticulture—“Every branch that beareth fruit must be purged [or pruned] that it might bring forth more fruit” (see John 15:2). …
Rarely, if ever, is there a truly great soul except he has been tried and tested through tears, and adversity—seemingly pruned by the hand of a master gardener. By applying the knife and the pruning hook the branch is shaped and fashioned to God’s omnipotent design, in order that its full fruitage may be realized.
Every one of you must endure trials, and hardships, heartaches and discouragements. When in sorrow and in despair if you will remember, you will be comforted if you learn this lesson: “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Hebrews 12:6)—and again: “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: for whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth” (Proverbs 3:11–12).9
The Prophet Joseph [Smith] … was worried because of depredations against the Saints and in the midst of his troubles you remember he cried out, “O God, how long shall it be before thine eyes shall see and thine ears hear the piteous cries of the Saints and avenge their wrongs on the heads of their enemies?” [See D&C 121:1–6.] And it was as though the Master had taken a frightened child into his arms and said:
“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.” (D&C 121:7, 8)
Then he said a stunning thing:
“… know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (D&C 122:7)
… Then the Master said:
“The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?
“Therefore, hold on thy way. … Fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.” (D&C 122:8, 9)
I came to a time in life when I had to apply that to myself. The Son of Man went through all of these.10
The purpose of our being here is clearly spelled out in the Lord’s revelation to Moses. He said, “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” [Moses 1:39.] “Eternal life of man” means a return back to the presence of God the Father and His Son to live eternally with Them. Now, He didn’t say it was His purpose that all His children should live here upon the earth in the lap of luxury, with wealth and ease and they should have no pain and no sorrow. He didn’t say that. For sometimes, as Isaiah put it, from out of the briar bush may come forth a beautiful myrtle tree [see Isaiah 55:13]. … What may seem for the moment to be a tragedy may, as we see the whole picture from the beginning to the end, in the wisdom of our Father, be for one of the great blessings instead of a tragic ending as we have supposed.11
How can we find inner strength and peace in times of trouble?
Every soul that walks the earth, you and I, all of us—whether rich or poor, whether good or bad, young or old—every one of us is going to be tested and tried by storms of adversity, winds that we must defend ourselves against. And the only ones who won’t fail will be those whose houses have been built upon the rock. And what’s the rock? It’s the rock of obedience to the principles and teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ as the Master taught.12
I make no apologies … in asking you this morning, to believe with me in the fundamental concepts of true religion—of faith in God and in His Son Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world and that in His name miracles have been and are being wrought today and that only by a full acceptance of these truths can you and I be anchored to unfailing moorings when the storms of life rage about us.
I invite you therefore, to humble yourselves … and with prayerful hearts dare to believe all that the holy prophets have taught us of the gospel from the Holy Scriptures from the beginning.13
So the all-important thing in life isn’t what happens to you, but the important thing is how you take it. That’s the important thing. In the closing of the Sermon on the Mount, you remember, the Master gave a parable. He said:
“Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
“And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. …” [Matthew 7:24–25.]
What was he trying to impress? He was trying to say that the winds of adversity, the floods of disaster, the difficulties, are going to beat upon every human house upon this earth; and the only ones who will not fall—when the bank fails, when you lose a loved one, in any other disaster—the only thing that will hold us through all these storms and stresses of life is when we’ve built upon the rocks by keeping the commandments of God. …
Wait patiently on the Lord in the season of persecution and deep affliction. The Lord said,
“Verily I say unto you my friends, fear not, let your hearts be comforted; yea, rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks;
“Waiting patiently on the Lord, for your prayers have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, and are recorded with this seal and testament—the Lord hath sworn and decreed that they shall be granted.” (D&C 98:1–2)14
What can we say to those who are yearning for an inward peace to quiet their fears, to ease the aching heart, to bring understanding, to look beyond the sordid trials of today and see a fruition of hopes and dreams in a world beyond mortality? …
The Master indicated the source from which ultimate peace would come when he said to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.)15
“Keep the commandments of God,” for therein is the one course that brings that inward peace of which the Master spoke when He bid farewell to His disciples: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) So may each of you, in the midst of the turmoil all about you, find that heavenly assurance from the Master who loves us all, which puts to flight all fears when, like the Master, you also have overcome the things of the world.16
Where is there safety in the world today? Safety can’t be won by tanks and guns and the airplanes and atomic bombs. There is only one place of safety and that is within the realm of the power of Almighty God that he gives to those who keep his commandments and listen to his voice, as he speaks through the channels that he has ordained for that purpose. …
Peace be with you, not the peace that comes from the legislation in the halls of congress, but the peace that comes in the way that the Master said, by overcoming all the things of the world. That God may help us so to understand and may you know that I know with a certainty that defies all doubt that this is his work, that he is guiding us and directing us today, as he has done in every dispensation of the gospel.17
Today, as prophesied, the whole world seems to be in commotion and men’s hearts are failing them. We truly must expect to live with that inner peace born from applying the gospel of Jesus Christ in the world of trouble and calamity. Failure of the heart may come upon men in part out of despair and significantly it will come in a time when the love of men shall wax cold. The power of the priesthood in us today must be called upon and we must even love those who despitefully use us and keep our minds sound as the Apostle Paul advised Timothy. [See 2 Timothy 1:7.] If we do not, we will be rendered ineffective. We will receive inadequate assurances. Then the adversary would not need to get us to break the commandments or to apostatize. We will have already dawdled away our strength.18
A businessman in Atlanta, Georgia, with whom I have been associated … was trying to comfort me through a devastating loss; he took me aside and he said to me, “Now, I want to tell you something. I’m a much older man than you. Thirty-four years ago the telephone rang at the bank where I was the president. The message was that my wife had been critically injured in an automobile accident. Immediately I said, ‘Oh, God wouldn’t let anything happen to this sweetheart of mine—she is so wonderful, so lovely, so beautiful.’ But within an hour word came again that she was dead. And then my heart cried out, ‘I want to die; I don’t want to live; I want to hear her voice.’ But I didn’t die, and I didn’t hear her voice. And then I sat down to try to speculate. What can be the meaning of such loneliness and such tragedy that stalks the path of all of us? And the thought came to me that this is the most severe test you’ll ever be required to face in life. And if you can pass it, there isn’t any other test that you won’t be able to pass.”
Somehow, as I rode home on the plane that night, there was peace, and for the first time I began to walk out of the shadows. And there came to me what the Apostle Paul said of the Master, “Though he were a Son”—meaning the Son of God—“yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Hebrews 5:8–9). Now, if you will think about that, that through the refining processes of separation, of loneliness, of devastation, I suppose there comes something that has to be before we are ready to meet some of the other tests of life.19
We have been called to difficult tasks in a difficult age, but this could be for each of us a time of high adventure, of great learning, of great inner satisfaction. For the converging challenges posed by war, urbanization, dilution of doctrine, and domestic decay surely provide for us the modern equivalent of crossing the plains, enduring misunderstanding, establishing a kingdom throughout the world in the midst of adversity. I pray that we may do our part during the journey, and be with, and leading, the caravan of the Church as it enters the final chosen place—His presence.20
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
What are our sources of safety and peace during times of adversity? What has strengthened you and given you peace during the trials in your life?
Why is everyone—both the righteous and the unrighteous—subjected to trials and adversities?
In what ways is adversity a blessing in our lives? In what ways can trials help us to become stronger and better able to serve the Lord?
Why must we put our trust in the “omnipotent design” of our Father in Heaven? What does it mean to be like clay in the hands of the Lord?
What does it mean to wait patiently on the Lord in times of trial? What have you learned as you have done this?
In what ways does God grant us peace to sustain us through times of adversity?
Address given at Brigham Young University Freedom Festival, 1 July 1962, Harold B. Lee Library Archives, Brigham Young University, 6.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1967, 98; or Improvement Era, Jan. 1968, 26.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams (1996), 171.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 69–70.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 187–88.
Stand Ye in Holy Places (1974), 114–15.
Stand Ye in Holy Places, 339.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1942, 72–73.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 191.
Education for Eternity, address given at Salt Lake Institute of Religion “Lectures in Theology: Last Message Series,” 15 Jan. 1971, Historical Library files, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6.
Address given at funeral of Mabel Hale Forsey, 24 Oct. 1960, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6.
Devotional address given at Brigham Young University, 15 Nov. 1949, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 10.
“‘I Dare You to Believe’: Elder Lee Urges USAC Graduates Seek Spiritual Facts,” Deseret News, 6 June 1953, Church News section, 4.
Education for Eternity, 7–8.
“To Ease the Aching Heart,” Ensign, Apr. 1973, 2.
“A Message to Members in the Service,” Church News, 2 Dec. 1972, 3.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1973, 169, 171; or Ensign, Jan. 1974, 128–29.
Address to regional representatives’ seminar, 3 Apr. 1970, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 54.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 408.